Monthly Archives: October 2014

Westray

After taking the morning ferry from Kirkwall we started our visit to Westray with a walk along the coast near the Rapness Water Mill. Oats were milled here until about a hundred years ago. ‘Ideal for DIY enthusiast’ would be the estate agent’s description of this place and I bet it would make a nice house. Put some panoramic windows in, mod cons like heating and electricity and you would have a great home. Not for us though: a bit too remote and quiet.

 

Rapness Water Mill

Rapness Water Mill

We walked to what is known as Castle O’Burrian, a sea stack where once a hermit lived. Now, at the right time of year, this is where you can see hundreds of Puffins, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots and other birds. Today there were only some tired gulls.

 

Castle O'Burrian

Castle O’Burrian

Next destination was Noup Head, on the northwest corner of the island. The last bit of the ‘road’ was a bit rocky and I would not have attempted it with the old RX8, but our new car got up to there quite easily. The lighthouse is another Stevenson construction (David A), from 1889. It was converted to solar power in 2001.

 

Noup Head

Noup Head

The cliffs are spectacular and seem much higher than 79 meters when you stand near the edge. Gannets put on a show for us, majestically gliding up to their perches on the vertical rock face. There were still some young birds with their dark plumage (whenever I use or read that word I always have to think of the dead parrot’s sketch.)

Cliff At Noup Head

Cliff At Noup Head

 

Gannets Nesting At Noup Head

Gannets Nesting At Noup Head

After a quick fish and chips lunch in the Pierowall Hotel (delicious), we went to the airport. Unfortunately there was no time to take the world’s shortest schedule flight to Papa Westray. The plane is airborne for about a minute (47 seconds in the right weather conditions) and covers a distance of about 1.7 miles (2.4 kilometers.) We did observe the sign that told us to “be aware of propellors.” Before taking the ferry back we just had time for a short walk to Cross Kirk, a ruined 12th century church and churchyard with a view across the Bay of Tuquoy.

 

Cross Kirk

Cross Kirk

 


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Orkney Coasts (Part 2)

I was keen to go back to Yesnaby, where I took some good pictures of the cliffs last year. Again, the weather did not really co-operate. The wind was good as it made for good looking waves, but the sun was hiding and the skies were leaden. This time we walked a bit north, towards Skara Brae. Like the Pancake Rocks in New Zealand the layered structure of the cliffs is very striking. I wonder if it works like with tree trunks, can you tell the age of the cliff by counting its layers?

Hole

Hole

 

A bit further north there was a fence made up of ‘standing stones.’ On the left is a good example of a ‘geo.’

Coast Near Yesnaby

Coast Near Yesnaby

The stack we came across was not as high as The Old Man Of Hoy and probably not as difficult to climb, but still I passed on this occasion.

Stack South Of Skara Brae

Stack South Of Skara Brae

 


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Orkney Coasts (Part 1)

One of the attractions that brought us back to Orkney was the varied and often spectacular coastline. There are spectacular cliffs, deserted beaches, secluded bays, all beautiful and, at this time of year, relatively quiet. On Mainland you can find many of these spots and you are never more than half an hours drive from any of them!

One of the outstanding places is Birsay, with its tidal island, view of Kitchener’s Memorial and geos. The word geo is derived from the Old Norse gjá and refers to “an inlet, a gully or a narrow and deep cleft in the face of a cliff. Geos are common on the coastline of the Shetland and Orkney islands. They are created by the wave driven erosion of cliffs along faults …” (from Wikipadia.)

Coast near Skiba Geo

Coast near Skiba Geo

 

From the Brough of Birsay you get a good view of Kitchener’s Memorial. He was the secretary of state for war at the beginning of World War I and best known for his image that appeared on recruiting posters pointing out that “Your country needs you!” The memorial is there because it was off this part of the Orkney coast that the HMS Hampshire, with Kitchener on board, ran into a German mine and sank in 1916. He and 600 sailors died. After the war conspiracy theories explaining his death abounded. One of them stated Winston Churchill and a Jewish plot were responsible. Another one stated that the ship did not hit a mine at all, but was sunk by explosives hidden aboard by Irish Republicans.

Kitchener's Memorial

Kitchener’s Memorial

 

Weathered Whalebone

Weathered Whalebone

 


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Today I Listened To …

Loose Tubes

was a British modern jazz big band in the eighties. At that time I worked for the British Council in Amsterdam and the Director, who was also interested in Jazz, decided we should sponsor a performance by this band in the Bim Huis in Amsterdam. There was a bit of last minute panic when the band was very late. It turned out that earlier in the day one of the musicians found out he had forgotten his passport when the band bus got to Dover. After a slightly delayed start and a shortened sound check it was a great evening with excellent music. I remember noticing some parallels with Frank Zappa and when I mentioned this to Django Bates (the keyboard player of the the band) later in the dressing room he told me that was not so surprising as he, and a few other members of the band, were also big Zappa fans. I continued to follow two of the band members in their later music careers: Django Bates and the trombonist Ashley Slater who became a founder member of Freakpower.

Loose Tubes - Open Letter

Loose Tubes – Open Letter

I like this CD and it’s jazzy big band interpretations of various styles of music: Irish Folk, South American, Modern Classical, Big Band.

 

BTW, This excellent, rare CD is for sale in my Amazon shop.
 


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Helmsdale

The name of this region in the northwest of Scotland would fit well in one of the Lord Of The Rings films. When we drove through it, on our way to Orkney earlier this year the landscape itself also reminded us of scenes from those films: lonely, wide ranging views, desolate, beautiful. The faded purples and browns of the vegetation confirmed that autumn was on its way. We needed to be on time for the ferry, so did not have the time to go for a walk, but when I spotted this view from the road I pulled over and walked some way towards the railway line.

 

Little Railway Bridge and Shed

Little Railway Bridge and Shed

 

I also combined three bracketed exposures into an HDR image to bring out the dramatic sky more.

Helmsdale Sky

Helmsdale Sky

 


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Kirbuster Farm Museum

On one of the last days of our time in Orkney we went to the Kirbuster Farm Museum, near Twatt. We were the only people there and got an excellent guided tour through the old farm, where the last owners lived until 1961. They never had electricity or running water. In fact, we noticed that in many ways the place resembled the neolithic houses of Skara Brae, a few miles away. There was an open peat fire in the middle of the room, with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. A few fish were hanging above the fire to be smoked. The smell was fantastic, almost as good as Laphroaig, or Port Charlotte. There were niches in the walls for storing or displaying valuables. There was a stone neuk (scottish for nook) that was used as a place to sleep. We imagined the cold winter mornings, having to get out of bed and put your feet on that icy stone floor.

This place should be on your list if you go to Orkney and I recommend you do!

Inside The Farmhouse

Living Room With Peat Fire

 

The smoke went up and out through a hole in the roof. A lot of it stayed in the room though, cannot have been good for people’s lungs. There was an ingenious system that was used to create the right draw for different wind directions and speeds.

Brewing Up

Brewing Up

 

Next to the entrance to the sleeping area hangs a fish oil lamp, much like the middle eastern ones. The wick is the core of a piece of reed, which would last about 24 hours. It did not provide much light, but was cheaper than a candle. Next to the lamp hangs a wooden pole that served as a device for measuring the weight of sacks of grain. On the ground is a churn, for making butter.

Stone Neuk Bed

Stone Neuk Bed

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A Day On Hoy

In September this year we spent three weeks on Orkney in the same house we rented last year. Having a bit longer this time meant that we were able to visit a few of the smaller islands and the first one was Hoy. The walk up to the Old Man Of Hoy was easy and well signposted, although it did prove a challenge for those who don’t like to go near cliff edges with 200 foot drops…

Hoy Cliff

Hoy Cliff

 

On the way to Orkney we had taken the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness specifically because you can get a really good view of The Old Man from the sea side. Unfortunately, visibility was very poor that day. We were compensated when we went to Hoy as the weather was beautiful: warm and clear skies. The Old Man stood erect and provided a good reward for the 3 mile walk.

Old Man Of Hoy

Old Man Of Hoy

 

After closer inspection and a bit of zooming in with the 105mm lens I noticed that a few climbers were actually trying to climb the stack! Not sure if they were going to get there as it was almost 13:00 already and they were only about a third of the way to the top. I had just read in a local paper that a few weeks earlier Chris Bonnington, who was the first to climb to the top in 1966, had reached the summit again at the age of 80!

Climbing The Old Man

Climbing The Old Man

 

The stack is thought to be less than 300 years old, as a map of 1750 shows a headland where the Old Man is now. The name ‘Old Man of Hoy’ originated from a time when the stack looked quite different, as shown on this watercolour painting from 1817. A storm washed away one of the legs early in the 19th century leaving it much as it is today, although erosion continues and the stack is certain to disappear. By 1992 a 130 ft. crack had appeared in the top of the south face, leaving a large overhanging section that will eventually collapse. Kudos to the climbers that succeed to get to the summit. Standing on the cliff edge is exhilarating, reaching the top of the Old Man must be sensational!

 

Old Man of Hoy by William Daniell, 1817

Old Man of Hoy by William Daniell, 1817

 

After the cliff top walk I visited the Dwarfie Stane, a megalithic chambered tomb carved out of a gigantic block of Devonian Old Red Sandstone. The name is derived from local legends which says the dwarf Trollid lived there. I crawled inside and wondered if the stone is on the list of the Mountain Bothies Association, as it provides comfortable shelter for two or three people, the separate chamber even has a stone cushion!

Dwarfie Stane

Dwarfie Stane

 

Inside The Dwarfie Stane

Inside The Dwarfie Stane

 


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Today I Listened To …

Frank_Zappa_-_Chunga's_Revenge

Mostly Zappa, so far. Started with Chunga’s Revenge, some good live stuff from 1970 there. I particularly like the title track, with some good solos and Sharleena, which would have been a hit if Zappa had got some more airplay instead of being controversial in satirising the establishment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

EverythingIsHealingNicely
Then I moved on to what I think is the best Zappa release since his death. He died of prostate cancer on the 3rd of December 1993, which happened to be my wedding day. Fortunately I only heard about his untimely death after the honeymoon, so it did not put a dampener of things. Everything Is Healing Nicely was released in 1999 and is an example of Zappa’s modern classical oeuvre, performed by the Ensemble Modern. It contains material left over from the Yellow Shark sessions in 1991. Like Yellow Shark it also has a track on which a German narrator reads a public document. On Yellow Shark it was the entry card that all visitors to the USA have to fill in, which asks if you are a Nazi or a terrorist! On this album it is a public library card, that states the users responsibilities in the language of officialdom. He also reads excerpts from the letters to the editor of PFIQ (Piercing Fans International Quarterly,) one of which contains the immortal line “Piercing the head of the cock must be painful.”


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